Birth of a Nation Reaction

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  1. The Birth of a Nation is filled with many of the key aspects for effective melodrama that Linda Williams outlines in her book Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Back and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson.  And each is pretty easily identified if the viewer is not distracted by the total re-writes of American history.  However, changing the facts about the South in the reconstruction helps the filmmakers increase their pathos and ethos for southerners and and ultimately the Ku Klux Klan as "defenders of the southland."
    I may be a little rusty with my American history, but a there were many parts of this movie in which I thought to myself, "this just doesn't seem like it really happened."  I grew up in the south, and throughout my schooling my lessons of the south were tainted with a little more sympathy for the Confederacy and the Southerners during reconstruction that probably would be appropriate in other states.  But even with this in mind, we never learned about blacks and former slaves taking over the government and dictating the lives of their white neighbors.  And certainly never heard this phrase:
  2. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.35.50 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.35.50 AM
  3. If southern whites felt victim to anyone it was to the north.  However in The Birth of a Nation the villains have been transferred to the blacks and freed slaves.  Williams explains that Stowe includes an "art of strong pathos and action that recognizes the virtues of suffering victims" in the definition of "melodramatic" (Williams, 11).  This film encourages sympathy for the "helpless white" while demonizing the freed slaves.  They even change their former enemy of the Unioners into an ally against this much more tragic war between the races.
  4. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 3.29.28 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 3.29.28 AM
  5. This movie not only aligns this unlikely pairing of the north and the south but explicitly explains the Blacks are trying to crush the whites.
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    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.48.52 AM

  7. Another component to melodrama, specifically in The Birth of a Nation Williams explains is "the suffering of the victim-hero" are important to establish virtue and "moral legitimacy" (25).  There are often deeds such as rescues, chases, and fights in which other emotions are employed alongside pathos such as "suspense, fear, anxiety, anger, and laughter" (25).  The big act that gives the Little Colonel the inspiration to be a noble masked vigilante for his suffering race is the death of Little Sister which he hold a black man named Gus completely responsible.
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    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.58.43 AM
  9. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 3.02.19 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 3.02.19 AM
  10. Peter Brooks explains that "melodrama begins and wants to end in a "space of innocence" and that the conflicts typically arise when "the villain intrudes upon this idyllic space" (Williams 28).  For this film, the "space of innocence" is nature.

    Nature is the place where lovers find each other and fall in love.
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    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.20.07 AM
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    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.16.11 AM
  13. Nature is the place where young girls play together.
  14. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.39.27 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.39.27 AM
  15. And it is when creepy Gus encroaches on this time that the viewer starts to get anxious and nervous about what's going to happen next.
  16. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.39.29 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.39.29 AM
  17. In fact, there is a shot of Gus's face in this scene which closely resembles how John Wilkes Boothe was portrayed right before he assassinated President Lincoln which makes the viewer even more uneasy.

    Gus
  18. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.39.49 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.39.49 AM
  19. Boothe
  20. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.46.17 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.46.17 AM
  21. It is even nature where Colonel turns when he is upset about what has become of his race in his homeland.
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    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.43.46 AM
  23. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.44.30 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.44.30 AM
  24. And this is when innocent children in innocent nature give him the inspiration behind the white masks of for the Klan.
  25. Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.44.51 AM
    Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 2.44.51 AM
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